DAWN OF THE 'BLACKHEARTS' - IRANIAN BLACK METAL MASTERMIND SINA SPEAKS

As we  mentioned in a recent interview with Norwegian filmmaker Christian Falch,  there's an awfully interesting new documentary in production that more than a few of you might appreciate. 'Blackhearts' is slated for a September 2015 release, and follows three black metal fans & musicians from very dissimilar backgrounds as they chase their dreams and try to stay true to their ideals. I've only seen a short clip of the film, but judging by the director's comments and the characters involved, it'll be quite different from any of the other "black metal documentaries" floating around out there - or at the very least, a lot more interesting. One of the film's subjects is a Tehran native named Sina, who prefers not to disclose his full name for fairly obvious reasons. His band From The Vastland is heavily inspired by classic Norwegian black metal, and the dude's clearly done his homework: this shit is quality. Sina styles himself as "Iran's only black metal musician," though the Encyclopedia Metallum and bands like Aras, Halla, or the excellent Mogh may beg to differ; one assumes his error there is a result of a lack of cohesion within Iran's metal scene, rather than hubris.

Both he and the film stress the dangers he faces as a black metal musician living in Iran, but as our interview below shows, the situation isn't as cut'n'dry as one might think. Iran has strict laws regarding the writing, recording, and distribution of music as well as live performances, and as open as the people themselves may be to extreme metal, the powers that be seem less impressed. The government censors will only accept three genres (Iranian folk music, Iranian classical music and Iranian pop music) which doesn't leave much room for a band like From The Vastland or any of Iran's 46 other metal bands to make themselves heard . Five musicians were recently arrested for illegally producing and recording music alongside LA-based musicians and satellite channels, and less than ten years ago, 230 people were arrested for attending a "satanic rock concert." It's not an ideal environment for a Gorgoroth fan who's looking to follow his dreams, and yet, Sina's been making some serious moves. He's working on a new album with some impressive new bandmates, and his band has been nominated for the Metal Hammer's Golden Gods awards' "Global Metal" category.

I got to meet Sina in Oslo at this year's Inferno Metal Festival while he was there promoting the film with Falch. As people crowded around his slight, long-haired figure, he seemed a little overwhelmed, but very excited. He comes across as a sweet, earnest dude, and I was happy to have had a chance to chat with him a little about 'Blackhearts,' his band, and where he's going next.

You are from Tehran, Iran, but are currently living in Norway, right? How did this happen?

Yes, actually I came here this time to record my new album and work on my music plan during my stay here (for example releasing the album, live concert and etc.). It is a long story but everything started after I started working with Christian Falch (I am one of the characters in his documentary) then I had the chance to work with professional Norwegian musicians and play at Inferno festival last year, released my album ‘Kamarikan’ on Indie Recordings and am now here again for a new adventure!

So, how did you first discover heavy metal? How did that path lead you to black metal?

I grew up in a family where my parents were fans of rock music so I was familiar with this kind of music, but when I was a teenager, one of my friends who lived in Austria came to Iran and brought me some music cassettes and for sure they were Heavy Metal music! Black Sabbath, Skid Row, Metallica. After some years then I was a serious fan of thrash/death metal music, and finally I listened to "Filosofem", the first Black Metal album that I listened to, and everything changed then.

What is it about Norwegian black metal in particular that resonates with you so deeply?

We all know that black Metal started from Norway so, Norwegian bands are originators of Black Metal and the thing is that Norwegian BM specially the early 90's works (old school stuff that still I am serious fan of) have special elements in their music. The atmosphere is really cold, dark, and mysterious, and also in other way close to the nature, something pure. That makes it special for me. But you know these days you can find so many good bands from all around the world. I really like the BM scene of some countries like Germany, France, Finland, and Sweden.

Your lyrics focus on Persian history and folklore instead of traditionally violent or Satanic topics. Was this a choice you made to avoid persecution at home, or a more natural desire of yours to explore your own interests?

Yes, actually all of my lyrics are about Persian history, myths, legends and etc. You know, we have lots of ancient texts, books and stories about battles between good and evil, light and darkness, god and the devil and etc, full of mysterious creatures and events. So, the environment of the stories is really proper for Black Metal and it is really inspirational for me when I read our ancient texts. I am really strict when I want to write my lyrics.

How do you reconcile your religion - or religious upbringing - with black metal's anti-religious message?

Well, I am not religious, also my family, so, the atmosphere and environment of the home was not religious when I was a child. It is true that you can see many religious people in Iran and the environment of the country is religious in a way but I think at last it depends on you.

Last year, your band From the Vastland appeared at Inferno, and you have since enjoyed an uptick in international praise and attention. Is it surreal for you to experience that?

Yes, I remember that someday playing my music on stage was like a dream for me but now I have the experiences of playing a live concert at Inferno, releasing my album internationally, working with great musicians and other things. So many great things happened regarding to From The Vastland during last year and still happening: big attention, positive feedback, the Metal Hammer nomination and so many other things...it is unbelievable. I am really glad that my dreams are going to come true but still there is a long way to go. I always have big dreams in my mind and am working on my music day by day to achieve all of my goals. Working with great musicians, releasing the albums and doing live concerts are just parts of that. I want to be somewhere on top!

How did you first get into contact with the people at Inferno? What was your experience like last year?

Everything started during the filming of BlackHearts, then with help of Christian Falch and also our friends at Keep of Kalessin and Indie Recordings, we made that possible. Everything that happened during last year was something new, unique and great for me. New great experiences in a short time...and still it is fresh for me! You know, now I see how it is helpful for your music’s improvement when you are somewhere with a metal scene and have the chance to work with professional artists.

Tell me a little about how From the Vastland started. How did you go about writing your first songs and sharpening your musical skills?

From the Vastland started in autumn of 2010 after around 10 years of direct activities in Iran’s metal scene. Before From the Vastland I had another black metal band (which was called Sorg Innkallelse. and we have 10 albums released) but From the Vastland is very personal project for me. Everything about From the Vastland is related to my inner feelings, thoughts and interests. So, I started with recording my first album Darkness Versus the Light, the Perpetual Battle which was released by Arx productions in 2011, and after that Kamarikan (released by Indie Recordings). For writing a song, as a guitarist everything starts with a riff or melody for me, but for sure I have an idea how to expand it and make the atmosphere and I just go through my inner feelings to play guitar and write a song. At the same time I always try to be creative on music writing and improve my music skills, I don't want to move just in a line.

Now you have been joined by several bandmates, and are recording a new album for Indie Recordings. Can you tell me about who you're playing with, and how all of this came together?

When I came back home after the inferno and playing with Andre ( of 1349/Den Saakaldte), Vyl (Keep of Kalessin/Gorgoroth) and Destructhor (Morbid Angel/Myrkskog) last year, I started working on some new material ( that event was really inspirational for me) and after some months I had 7 songs ready to record, so, I sent them to Andre and Vyl. They liked the songs and January this year I came to Norway again, we went to the studio and now we have the new album ready!

Tell me about your involvement in Christian's documentary. Were you nervous about appearing in this film and showing your face? Have you encountered any negative results since you became involved?

Everything started when Christian Falch contacted me and told me about his documentary film. for me it was really interesting when I saw that is kind of different film about black metal. So, we talked about everything then started. My family and friend are always supporting me, giving me positive energy and they are really helpful...I think it is a big chance that you can have supportive people around yourself. I was a little nervous for sure, because when you live in Iran and working in this kind of project you don't know what will happen...

What would happen if From the Vastland played a gig in Tehran? Do you genuinely fear that the government would injure or arrest you if they became aware of your involvement with black metal? Surely you cannot be that afraid if you've got active social media pages and are in this film.

It is not possible to play a black metal gig in Iran because when you want to do a live concert you need to get a permit from the government, and for sure they don't give you permit to play this kind of music. If you want to do it illegally, it makes a serious problem for you. The problem is that there is no specific laws about the metal music so, you don't know what will happen and since there was some cases before, everything is possible...

What is Tehran's heavy metal scene like? Are there other bands we should be paying attention to?

We have some other active metal bands in Iran, good bands with good music, however, most of them are thrash metal or death metal. The problem is since it is not possible for bands to release their albums officially or do live concerts, they don't know each other. There are just some communities on the internet, and there is no big metal scene unfortunately. But, I am sure there is a big capability in Iran with metal bands if they can make it work...

What does black metal mean to you?

For me Black Metal is not just music. It is my passion and it is my lifestyle. It is always hard and complicated when you want to talk about your passion and things that are related to your feelings, but it is something that just comes from your deep inside. Everything is summarized in music for me...

What's next for you, and for From the Vastland?

In this time I focus on my music and writing some new material. Allso since I have the new album ready, I am working to see how to release it at the right time, and we are working to have a live concert this year if it is possible.

The last words are yours, thanks Sina!

I just want to say thank you all people, fans, friends and my family...you always give me positive energy and motivation to continue my way. I am really thankful that I have your support and I will do my best to make good music.

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